Syria: Fighting in Damascus intensifies as rebels close in on Assad
Syrian rebels fired at tanks in Damascus residential districts, armoured vehicles blocked the main entrances to an entire district and protesters briefly barricaded a main road into the city with bricks and burning tyres yesterday, in the worst fighting to hit the tightly controlled capital since the uprising began 16 months ago.
The scenes from the second straight day of fierce clashes in Damascus, unfolding in amateur videos posted online, were the latest evidence that Syria’s conflict is moving ever closer to the seat of president Bashar al-Assad’s power.
Plumes of black smoke drifted over the city skyline and gunfire could be heard throughout the capital, even in the districts favoured by members of Mr Assad’s government. The fighting left many streets deserted in a string of neighbourhoods around the city’s south-western corner where the fighting was focused. Many families have fled, and fear grips many who remain behind.
“It is a war here, a war,” said a woman in the Midan district, who didn’t give her name for fear of repercussions.
“It seems there is a new strategy to bring the fighting into the centre of the capital,” Mustafa Osso, an activist inside Syria, said, referring to the rebels who fight under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. “The capital used to be safe. This will trouble the regime.”
The violence in Syria has grown increasingly bloody and chaotic in recent months as the uprising has morphed from a peaceful revolt into an armed insurgency aimed at toppling the Assad regime.
In Moscow, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday accused the West of using blackmail to secure a new UN Security Council resolution that could allow the use of force in Syria. A Chapter 7 resolution authorises actions to enforce sanctions that can ultimately include the use of military force, which the US, France and Britain – for now – are playing down as a possibility.
Yesterday’s fighting in Damascus was concentrated in the neighbourhoods of Kfar Souseh, Midan and Tadamon, according to Mr Osso and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
An amateur video posted online showed several gunmen, some of them masked, as they ran or opened fire in the streets of Tadamon. Another video showed Kfar Souseh with the sound of intense gunfire in the distance. The presidential palace, on a mountain overlooking the capital, could be seen in the background.
There have been sporadic clashes in Damascus in recent months, although president Assad’s forces remain in control of the city. Many of the Damascus suburbs, however, have risen up against the regime, prompting a ferocious response from the military in an attempt to clear out rebel fighters from the towns that ring the capital.
A Damascus resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said gunfire and sporadic explosions could be heard throughout the morning. The resident said that unlike previous clashes that occurred at night, the recent fighting took place during the day – a sign that the rebels are becoming more brazen.
Another resident said black smoke could be seen all over Damascus since Sunday.
Anti-regime activists estimate that more than 17,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began.
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